Prime Minister and Secretary General of Singapore of the ruling People’s Action Party Lee Hsien Loong is looking at media representatives as he prepares to leave after the vote in the Singapore general election on July 10, 2020.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images
The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore extended its unbroken reign in Friday̵
Having held power since independence in 1965, the PAP was generally expected to win Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and lead to what was probably his last victory before his resignation as a national leader.
The PAP secured 83 of 93 seats in parliament. However, the main opposition workers’ party won the other 10, most held by opposition lawmakers, while the PAP’s referendum fell from 70% in 2015 to 61%.
Even small shifts in the popularity of the PAP can lead to major policy changes, and PM Lee set an optimistic tone in a press conference early Saturday morning.
“We have a clear mandate, but the percentage of the referendum is not as high as I hoped,” said Lee.
“The results reflect the pain and uncertainty that Singaporeans feel in this crisis … This was not a feel-good choice.”
In a city-state with strict language and assembly rules and a one-sided political balance of power, opposition supporters took the result as a milestone in their strength.
The streets in the stronghold district of the Workers’ Party swelled and supporters honked, cheered and waved party flags – some seemed to pay little attention to the rules of social distance.
“The results have even exceeded the expectations of some opposition figures,” said Loke Hoe Yeong, author of First Wave, a book on the history of the opposition in Singapore.
“It also looks like voters are expressing their disapproval of the PAP, which is holding parliamentary elections in the middle of the pandemic.”
The PAP’s two-thirds majority gives them the freedom to legislate and change the constitution, but its leaders will also be under pressure to address the loss of support.
As concerns about immigration and employment increased in 2011, the PAP polled a record low of 60% of the vote and tightened international recruitment rules to take into account the sensitivity of voters.
Labor Party supporters celebrate a positive return in an early sample of votes during the July 11, 2020 general election in Singapore. Singaporeans voted their next government on Friday for a general election in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with the ruling People’s Action Party retaining a majority.
Suhaimi Abdullah | Getty Images
These concerns have come to the fore again as the country emerges from the blockade to face its deepest recession.
Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, called for the election to look for a new mandate to lead the country through a health crisis that has impacted the small but open economy.
Singapore is not the first country to hold elections during the pandemic – South Korea and Serbia have also held elections – but opposition parties have pushed back the plan, claiming that it is endangering voters and hindering their election campaign.
“They think they handled the pandemic well,” said Muhammad, a 33-year-old construction safety manager among enthusiastic supporters of the Labor Party. “You haven’t,” he said.
Singapore has one of the lowest Covid 19 death rates in the world and was initially widely praised for its efforts. Later outbreaks in cramped dormitories for migrant workers hampered this early success and convinced the government to keep schools and businesses closed for longer.
Lee, 68, who has served as prime minister since 2004, kept his seat easily. Previously, he had announced his intention to step down in the coming years, but said on Saturday that he would stay to weather the Covid 19 crisis.
In the meantime, his deputy and dedicated successor, Heng Swee Keat, won his seat with just under 53% of the vote. According to analysts, this was an important test for his public support.